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Want to know what is on our minds? Find blog posts written here, by the City Club staff, members, and partners. Every week you can find a new edition of #FreeSpeech in the News — a collection of related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century that’s making the news. You’ll also find takes on current events, past forums, and issues surrounding Northeast Ohio. Read on for all things City Club.

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Monday, September 20, 2021

#FREESPEECH in the News September 20, 2021

Bliss Davis, Content and Programming Coordinator, The City Club of Cleveland

As the Citadel of Free Speech here in Cleveland, we work to protect and promote the basis of our democracy by sharing related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century. Here's what's making the news – and what you should know about – in the past week.

1.) Court won't stop protests outside Michigan synagogue

Provocative pro-Palestinian protests outside a Jewish synagogue in Michigan are protected by the Constitution's First Amendment, a federal court appeals said Wednesday.

The court declined to stop the demonstrations or set restrictions in Ann Arbor. The protests have occurred on a weekly basis since 2003, with people holding signs that say “Jewish Power Corrupts,” “Stop Funding Israel” and “End the Palestinian Holocaust.”

Members of Beth Israel Congregation, including some Holocaust survivors, said the protests have interfered with their Saturday worship and caused emotional distress.

“But the congregants have not alleged that the protesters ever blocked them from using their synagogue or that the protests were even audible from inside the building,” Judge Jeffrey Sutton said.

He said a proposed remedy — a 1,000-foot (305-meter) buffer and limits on signs — would likely violate the First Amendment.

2.) Syracuse University defends professor's controversial 9/11 tweets, right to free speech

Syracuse University officials are defending a political science professor who was criticized and threatened over a series of controversial tweets about the 9/11 attacks.

In a tweet posted Friday, Sept. 10, Prof. Jenn M. Jackson said, “We have to be more honest about what 9/11 was and what it wasn’t. It was an attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalistic systems that America relies upon to wrangle other countries into passivity. It was an attack on the systems many white Americans fight to protect.”

Jackson is an assistant professor of political science and teaches courses in women’s & gender studies, African American studies and LGBT studies, according to their biography on the university’s website. Their tweets are currently "protected," meaning only Twitter users who follow Jackson's account can view their tweets. Some critics of Jackson’s tweets accused them of defending 9/11 and the extremists responsible for the attacks.

3.) Texas’s new social media law is a clear violation of the First Amendment

Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that forbids the largest social media companies from removing users or their posts based on their political viewpoints. It also lets Texans sue social media websites with more than 50 million US users over perceived violations.

The law categorizes social media platforms as public forums and “common carriers,” a term often used to describe phone companies or utilities that in most cases cannot discriminate against customers. The law empowers the state’s attorney general and private citizens to sue over alleged violations.

While the law claims it protects individuals from “censorship” on social media websites, it also appears to violate private corporations’ own speech rights. Free speech scholars and advocacy groups say the Texas state government unconstitutionally dictates political speech on the world’s largest platforms by forcing platforms to carry favored views.

The tech industry group NetChoice wrote in a statement the Texas law forces websites to host “obscene, antisemitic, racist, hateful, and otherwise awful content.”

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